Tomorrow marks MLB's Rule V draft, a draft where unprotected players can be had by any team for a fee and a roster spot. While teams do a good job of protecting their most valuable assets, there are players who slip through the cracks—most notably Johan Santana and Josh Hamilton in recent years.
Players signed at age 19 or older have three years of minor league eligibility before they must be added to a team's 40-man roster. If they are not added to the roster before this time, they will be eligible for the Rule V draft.
Similarly, players signed at age 18 or younger with four years of minor league service become eligible for the draft if not added to a team's 40-man roster.
One major caveat in the rules, if a player is selected in the Rule V draft, he must be kept on the team’s 25-man roster for a full year after being selected. If he is left off the roster for one reason or another, the player will be returned to his original club—a la Matt Whitney, now with the Washington Nationals.
Typically, 'toolsy' middle infielders or left-handed-pitchers are the ones to be selected in the draft. The thinking is that a young, high upside, middle infielder can, at worst, be a defensive replacement for a year, then be returned to the minors for another year or two of seasoning.
The same reasoning applies with a left-handed pitcher, who can be used in situational roles, as the Twins did with Johan Santana at first.
Over at Baseball America, a complete listing of all the players available for the Rule V draft is posted. It is a ridiculously long list, one that I had a tough time believing.
While very few will go name by name through the list, it would have been helpful had Baseball America gotten an intern to go through the list linking every player to at least their MiLB.com player profile page.
First Inning has a tool that does this, unfortunately it did not work—or fortunately, for my desire to sleep.
I did, however go through the list searching out all of the players aged 21 and under. I will go over my findings in a moment.
While there is unlikely to be another Santana or Hamilton in this year's draft, there are a handful of very intriguing young players. Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors highlights some of the players that are most likely to be selected in the draft—we're talking predominantly ex-top prospects who simply did not work and have run out of time with their respective clubs.
From that list, there are three players that specifically stick out to me—Chuck Lofgren from the Cleveland Indians, Donald Veal from the Chicago Cubs, and Eduardo Morlan from the Tampa Bay Rays.
After a breakout season in 2006, Chuck Lofgren took a minor step back after being promoted to double-A the following year as a 21-year-old. While his numbers were not terrible in 2007, they were never good enough to warrant serious consideration for promotion.
The Indians again started Lofgren in double-A for the 2008 season with the expectations that he would at least make a splash in triple-A, if not making the big league club at some point.
Obviously, this never happened as Lofgren's control—which was never a strength to begin with—took a further step back. While Lofgren has the stuff and the body that makes scouts drool, he is also a continual source of frustration.
A team will certainly take a look at him for the back end of their bullpen, hoping to iron out any mechanical flaws.
Veal is a straight up power-pitcher with a power-pitcher's body. The left-hander sits in the low 90s, but can touch 96 on occasion. His delivery could be tinkered with, but in all, Veal could very well be a change-of-scenery pitcher.
The fact is, most teams are currently running out worse pitchers with the fifth spot in their rotation.
The most promising player is Eduardo Morlan. Received from the Twins as part of the Garza-for-Young deal, Morlan can presumably be owned for $50,000 and then stashed on the disabled list for much of 2009 season.
While not technically injured, according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, Morlan lost three to five mph off his fastball this season and took a significant step back from 2007.
While 2008 was a fine season by anyone’s standards, it was certainly an off year for Morlan, who saw his strikeout-per-nine drop from over 12.00 down to 8.62. While Morlan managed to put up a decent walk rate, the loss in velocity sends up some serious red flags. That said, I'd be willing to take a shot at the 22-year-old giant.
Another interesting prospect comes in the form of wooden-shoe wearing Loek Van Mil. Van Mil is a 7'1" Dutch right-hander who reaches 97 mph on his fastball. Control has been an issue for the 24-year-old, but considering how raw the prospect is, he may be worth bringing into Spring Training to see what he's got.
Also stealing headlines is Indians first basemen Jordan Brown. Brown could probably be an alright bench player, but unfortunately the hopes of him developing into a legitimate power hitter are long gone. Armed with a stellar eye at the plate, Brown will be picked with one of the first few spots in the draft and owned for the duration of the 2009 season.
As I mentioned, I took a look at the class of Rule V eligible players aged 21 and under.
My thinking was that these players are young enough where a season of cage work and instruction may actually improve their long term futures. Unfortunately, this theory has not worked out in the past, as many high-ceiling youngsters have been taken, only to fall on their faces after not hitting for a full year.
Of my list of 20 players whom I saw fit to being drafted, here are my top five.
Edgar Osuna - 21 years old - Left-Handed - Starting/Relief Pitcher - Atlanta Braves
Osuna has some phenomenal statistics, starting with a 9.69 strikeout-per-nine and a walk rate on the low end of the spectrum. While he took a step back in his advancement from rookie ball to A ball, we're talking a kid with a fair amount of potential.
I can't find much regarding Osuna's stuff except that he has a change up which he uses as an out pitch. John Sickels recently rated him as a C+ prospect calling him a 'sleeper.'
Luis Ortega - 21 years old - Right-Handed - Starting Pitcher - Washington Nationals
How Ortega's season has gone unnoticed in a weak Nationals farm system is beyond me. Nevertheless, the 21-year-old put up strong numbers against inferior competition during the Dominican Summer Leagues. Ortega struck out more then a batter an inning while maintaining an incredible walk rate.
Without accurate scouting reports, teams will certainly shy away from this player. However, if his stuff pans out, he certainly could be the next Joakim Soria.
Luis Sumoza - 20 years old - Bats and Throws Right - Outfield - Atlanta Braves
The second Brave to make this list, Sumoza is an outfielder with a boat-load of power. Despite having only a few hacks above low-A ball, Sumoza is a player that I would give a long look at, potentially giving him the occasional platoon-like at bats. At age 20, his development may stunt, but better stunted in my system then growing in another.
Ivan Nova - 22 years old - Right-Handed - Starting Pitcher - New York Yankees
Nova entered the 2008 season ranking as the No. 18 prospect in the Yankees' organization. Considering the incredible strides Nova took while moving up a level, the kid seems more then poised for a breakout season.
In 2008, Nova saw his strikeout rate jump from 4.89 to 6.60. While only a marginal amount, his base-on-balls dropped as well.
Adrian Aviles - 19 years old - Bats and Throws Left - Outfielder - Los Angeles Dodgers
Adrian hasn't done anything special. He has performed at a league-average rate against equally young competition. However, Aviles is the youngest player on this list and could easily be the cheapest draft pick a team could land.
While there are a few more players I would strongly consider picking up, these are the top five. None of these players are likely to find their way on to a Major League roster this coming season, so it will be fun to see how each player develops with their current ball clubs in 2009.
It will be interesting to see who, if any, crack top prospect lists entering the 2010 season.
Enjoy the draft tomorrow.